Even forty years later, it's an iconic series that's still remembered and revered. Everyone in Japan knows of it, but it's huge in Latin America and Europe too. There's even an Afrikaans dub, although the only version that reached the USA is a 1979 compilation movie. Oh, and the 1881 novel it's based on, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, is one of the best-selling books ever written, with about twenty TV or film adaptations. (One of them's a 1937 Shirley Temple movie!)
However it's also obviously a show for young children, with fairly limited appeal to people like me. I'm glad I've watched it, but I wouldn't really recommend it. The first third is mildly soporific, although it gets more dramatic when Heidi goes to Frankfurt. Meanwhile the pacing's so slow that it becomes a category error to criticise the pacing at all, since the plot's essentially static with only occasional bursts of story.
It's absolutely and utterly okay. It's nice. However the plot has no momentum and the art's at best workmanlike. It's ordinary 1970s children's TV animation, even if the director is Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata.
You probably watched some version of Heidi as a child. I did. However I didn't know the plot, or indeed that it had a plot in the first place. The story begins with a five-year-old orphan (Heidi) getting dumped on her misanthropic grandfather (Alm-Ohi) instead. All the villagers hate him and he hates them back. Throwing a child at him is generally seen as like abandoning her for the wolves. However Heidi thinks everything in the entire world is wonderful and doesn't see anything odd about being allowed to play on the edge of precipices, so soon she's getting on famously with Alm-Ohi. He's actually a surprisingly good parental substitute once you've got on his good side, apart from the small matter of being banned from school. (Alm-Ohi disapproves of school. That's the main "wow, 1881" stumbling block for a modern sensibility.)
This first run of episodes is about Heidi's daily life with Alm-Ohi and her goatherd friend Peter. It's pleasant and nothing happens in it. After a while, though, Heidi's aunt comes back to drag her to Frankfurt, because she's seen an opportunity for money. This is basically kidnapping under false pretences. There Heidi is forced to live with Clara (nice, wheelchair-bound, twelve years old) and Fraulein Rottenmeier (uptight bitch queen from hell). She's the Mistress of No. Everything Heidi says and does is bad, according to Rottenmeier. Sit up straight! Don't play! Don't breathe! Everything is blamed immediately on Heidi. Tomoko actually liked Rottenmeier, pointing out that what she's telling Heidi to do isn't actually wrong and that the child would be quite a handful to look after. "Bossy" and "wilful" are words Tomoko used. Personally, though, I'd have fired Rottenmeier and I'd call it practically abuse to leave a woman with that attitude in charge of children.
Her attitude to education is particularly shocking. She's better than Alm-Ohi, but she forces Heidi to attend Clara's classes and tells their tutor just to give his usual lessons. Heidi can't even read yet! For what it's worth, I think it's a tribute to the child that she's managed to stay friendly and normal despite being brought up by Alm-Ohi. She should have been like a child raised by bears. She also turns out to be a quick learner when Clara's grandmother gives her the chance, i.e. encouraging her to read books instead of just making her say the alphabet.
I loathed Rottenmeier and I wanted her to end up in prison, but at least the Frankfurt episodes have more bite than the earlier ones with Alm-Ohi. Heidi's homesick. She wants to leave, but unfortunately Clara's lonely and clingy. (Plus of course Heidi can't return by herself and no adult's willing to take her.) Eventually Rottenmeier crushes Heidi's spirit and turns her into a zombie version of herself, which I'm sure the lady sees as good progress.
That's Act Two. There's also an Act Three, which is happier.
This is one of the most famous shows in a famous anime series: World Masterpiece Theater. These adapted a classic Western novel every year from 1969-1997, with a brief revival in 2007. They did Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson and many more. They were required viewing for a generation of Japanese children and it's hard to overstate their cultural impact, but these days they're basically a thing of the past. They're slow, often sad and not the kind of thing children want to watch any more.
If you're interested, here's an article that goes into more detail: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2016-10-10/.107267
ep.4: that's the toughest baby bird in the world.
ep.9: Heidi's lucky she didn't freeze to death in that bed and never wake up again.
ep.11: it's amazing that no one fell into that crevasse and died. Alm-Ohi gets to be a bit of an action hero, but had he been planning to say nothing about that blizzard until Heidi spoke up?
ep.13: there's a fist fight between two boys. Heidi bites one of them!
ep.14: how on Earth is Heidi still alive? Those mountain drops are terrifying.
ep.17: the anime unexpectedly grows a story here. Emotion, plot, drama, etc. It'll soon settle into a new status quo in Frankfurt, but still...
ep.25: every so often Heidi seems to be on hallucinogens. An episode would include an impossible fantasy sequence and Tomoko and I would make jokes about it. Amusingly this includes the show's finale.
ep.29: this show's characterisation can be darker than you'd expect. Rottenmeier blames Heidi for Clara's illness and Heidi believes her (!), which is the start of something a little broken in our heroine. Similarly, the saintly-looking Clara realises for the first time in ep.45 that she's been a burden on others. She's twelve. That's quite a savage insight into someone who's essentially sweet-natured and long-suffering.
ep.43: even if she can't use her legs, they should have been working on Clara's upper body strength. Well, I suppose there weren't many physiotherapists in 1881.
If you get a chance to see this show, by all means check out an episode or two. It's famous, after all. (English dubs do exist, one from the 1970s in the Philippines and another from 2001 in India.) Don't get your expectations too high, though. The animation's a bit crude and unexpressive, frankly. The original book's plot has slowed down to a crawl, although there are spots where things happen. It's 52 episodes, after all. However one of those strong episodes is the last one, while the series as a whole does basically work and tell a memorable story about Heidi, Clara and the highly flawed adults in their lives.